Here is a new piece by Fulton County high school student Andrew Liang. He is a former reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press and has appeared as an education commentator on the Today Show, CNN, and MSNBC. You can read earlier Get Schooled essays by him here and here.
By Andrew Liang
Last Thursday, I sat for my final Advanced Placement Exam of the year. Since all of my academic classes are AP courses, I am effectively finished with the school year, even though it does not officially end until Memorial Day weekend.
I took four AP classes as a high school junior: AP US History, AP English Language, AP Physics, and AP Statistics. Although my course load is relatively rigorous, it is not uncommon for juniors to have a majority of AP classes on their schedule. In fact, in many subjects, we have only two course options: the AP class or the on-level class. Students taking US History, English, and Physics are left to choose between a college-level course and the minimal high school one. There is no in-between option. So it is not surprising that many students looking for a bit of rigor and critical thinking in their junior year opt for the AP classes. I did the same.
These AP classes are designed to prepare students for the namesake College Board exams in May, which provide high school students with the opportunity to earn college credit if they score well. The courses encourage students to look beyond the usual state standards and to think for themselves; for instance, AP US History asks students to interpret primary documents in the context of their historical periods and AP English Language invites students to examine rhetorical strategies and arguments behind famous works.
Because these courses are so demanding and cover such broad topics (like the entirety of US history from Columbus to the present day), students and teachers work at a fast pace throughout the year to complete their curriculums. Most teachers finish teaching new material with only a few days to spare before the Georgia Milestones in late April and AP Exams in early May.
Then come three weeks of relentless testing. In AP Physics and AP Statistics, I took two end-of-course tests: the teacher-made final exam and the actual AP exam. In classes with Milestones tests like AP US History, I had to take three.
Despite the fact that their courses finish all testing in early May, AP teachers are still perplexingly required to give assessments during the last week of school. This last week is somewhat ironically termed “final exam week,” even when most juniors and seniors have already taken their actual final exams before the AP tests. Usually, these final week tests come in the form of projects, or simple tests, to fulfill this pointless requirement.
With nothing new on their curriculums to cover for two weeks, many teachers turn to showing movies related to their subjects. As nearly all of my classes are AP courses, I will be watching plenty of movies until the school year ends. So will many of my sophomore and junior classmates, and nearly all of my senior ones.
Now don’t get me wrong; I love movies, and would even consider myself somewhat of a film buff. But if AP students are only in school to watch movies for 10 days, we are probably seeing a lack of planning by the school system and by standardized testing boards.
These two weeks would be invaluable if placed before the exam season; they would allow students extra time to study and provide teachers with much-needed review time. Used for timed-essay practice and feedback, mock multiple choice exams, and concept reviews, these two weeks would undoubtedly leave students better prepared and likely improve standardized testing scores.
However, I realize the difficulty of beginning the school year two weeks earlier. The idea of a school year that starts in late July and ends in early May would likely face significant opposition from parents who believe that the existing one already begins too early.
A better solution is to shift the dates of standardized tests. Instead of placing Milestones in April, the state should administer them closer to the end of the school year, allowing teachers and students to take advantage of nearly a month of extra instruction time.
In the same way, the College Board should consider administering its AP Exams at the end of May, to give teachers and students enough time to comprehensively and comfortably cover college-level curriculums. Such a shift would also significantly reduce student stress and workloads throughout the school year, and give us ample time to review concepts after the course material has been covered.
Students and teachers work very hard to do their best in preparing for a plethora of standardized testing. School systems and testing boards need to be doing the same in providing classrooms with the tools and the time they need to improve and succeed. A revised testing schedule is a great place to start.